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The Frightening Successes of the Securitarian Discourse

Centre for asylum seekers in Serbia. Photo by Lucie Bacon, PhD candidate, fieldwork 2015.

Soon after the people opened a corridor for (relatively) safer passage into the EU this summer, the member states started to respond with repressive measures. While Viktor Orbán's decision to build a fence along the border with Serbia and the subsequent introduction of legislation that seriously criminalises undocumented migrants in Hungary seemed outrageous in the summer of 2015, in just a matter of months plans of reinforcing borders – be it with razor wire fences, intra-Schengen control or quotas on entries – were taken up in all EU member states.

Repressive measures are culminating in a gradual closing of the corridor through the Balkans. On the 18th of November, limitations were put in place, which exclude everyone but nationals of war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan from traveling along the corridor. As of the 21st of February, Afghan nationals are excluded too. If Afghanistan is no longer deemed war-torn enough to justify passage into the EU, it seems it is only a matter of time until Syrians and Iraqis will be excluded too and the corridor will close altogether.

But closing the corridor, militarising the border and building fences does not stop the movement of people – it only makes the journey illegalised and thus much more difficult, dangerous, costly, and ultimately deadly. The people who are fleeing war, who have no home to return to, will not so easily be deterred. Many more might lose their lives – and the responsibility for these deaths lies with those who made the decision to illegalise and criminalise migration. Meanwhile the survivors of the EU's migration policies will continue to move into the EU.

Illegalising migration has another important consequence: it disciplines the newly arrived workforce. The precarisation felt by all of us growing up in post-Fordist neoliberalism is felt even more extremely by those who are "illegal" or whose legal status is precarious. To put it bluntly: if you spend all your life savings and several months or years on a dangerous and potentially deadly journey into Europe, then spend months or years in (often prison-like) migrant camps, and you still are not sure if you will get citizenship rights and face the constant threat of deportation to where you fled from, you will likely be willing to work for almost nothing and under abject and often life-threatening conditions.

The gradual closure of the borders will make migration much more dangerous and render illegalised people much more exploitable. But equally frightening is the success of the securitarian discourse this closure represents.

It is the representation of migrants as a threat that became normalised in the media and political climate of the last few months that is now used as a justification for the closure of the borders and increased repressive treatment. When the securitarian discourse becomes normalised, taken for granted and presented as the only truth, the divide between "us" (the supposedly autochthonous population) and "them" (the newly arrived) suddenly becomes important. "We" are presented as essentially different from "them", the "domestic workforce" somehow better and more deserving than the "migrant workforce". If the securitarian discourse is unquestioned and accepted, the potential for solidarity between people is broken. When my unemployed ex-school-mate, who foresees no prospects to move out of their parents' house and can no longer pay for the health insurance tells me that "our" problem is the many refugees that are "flooding" Europe, I am reminded how frightening are the successes of the securitarian discourse.

PS. This post was written on the 5th of March, only a few days before the humanitarian corridor through the Balkans officially closed on the 8th of March.

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